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This review is from: Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (Hardcover)
Leave it to yet another conservative pundit and reporter for The Wall Street Journal to write a tongue-in-cheek "assessment" of the morays of pop culture. Sure, we all like to think we know how conservatives define culture. Yet the American mass media has done an abysmal job reporting and interpreting the deeper meanings of conservatism's allegiance to what we consider "high culture." If we also stop to recall that "pop" literally overwhelmed "high culture" during the so-called "countercultural rebellion" of the 1960s, conservatism's latest "trip"--i.e. to revaluate and reinterpret its rival's intentions and relevance--isn't all that hard to fathom. Besides, didn't the uberconservative powers-that-be announce to the world three years ago that they were going to turn away from the political sphere and begin to subvert the current culture?
Lucky for us, David Brooks' "Bobos In Paradise" is at least an entertaining hatchet job that seems to be an attempt at getting what's out of the box back into it. Purporting to be a serious work of social criticism--which it isn't, not by a long shot--Brooks literally stumbles all over the minefield of stereotypic thinking he's laid for his readers. Regardless of smatterings of validity hidden within one one-liner after another, Brooks' comprehension of popular culture's effects on adult society and the world of the worker-drones is too superficial and too convoluted to be taken all that seriously.
For example, Brooks describes a concept--metis--allegedly taken from the ancient Greek by a Yale anthropologist named James C. Scott, to describe the Bobo approach to work. Though Brooks claims it means "practical knowledge, cunning or having a knack for something", anyone can look into the Oxford English Dictionary and learn that "metis" actually means "crossbreed, particularly offsprings of whites and Native Americans, as in mestizo." Which is a funny and telling comparison between two concepts. But...is it a joke? And, if it really is one, is it funny? Besides, a look into any good faculty directory reveals that the only "James Scott" at Yale is a political science professor. A long, long way from anthropology.
When Brooks begins to describe the so-called spiritual aspects of "Bobo culture," he marvels at a morality that is "modest in its ambitions and quiet in its proclamations, not seeking to transform the entire world but to make a difference where it can." Further describing this tendency to look at morality in personal terms, he does note that many so-called Bobos tend towards ambivalence when confronted by moral paradox or ethical conflict. But he's quick to defend their solution: Bobos follow the path of least resistance. Which, it seems, is a nice way of telling us that the so-called Bobo culture is comprised of a bunch of cowardly sissies who are too self-centered to act upon their fancied superiority.
According to Brooks, politically speaking, Bobos are "unifiers" not "dividers"--which, of course, puts them right into the category of George W. Bush, the first American Anti-President to wage a class war from the top down. Which, as a general statement, is simple co-optation, part of a widely flung campaign to declare the culture wars of the last three decades over and won--a tactic that would thereby brand anyone who continues to wage it from undesirable quarters "an agitator".
What's most troubling about "Bobos In Paradise" is its benchmark misconnection: Are we really seeing a meld of the so-called American bourgeoise and the so-called bohemians? That's a pretty questionable assertion. More likely, we're seeing the results of a long-invisible counterculture's rising popularity and its consequent marketing by Madison Avenue. And as for the Bobos themselves? In all probability, they're merely a groundswell of well-meaning men and women who are rich enough to make themselves look and seem like the visible exponents of some sort of new wave in American culture when, in reality, they're simply involved with changing their image and their "market signature." Possessing the trappings--read: products--of a counterculture that has staunchly guarded its non-political nature for nearly 20 years, the people Brooks identifies as Bobos are merely adult versions of the predators who took the 1960s counterculture to the bank. Anyone who has seen what is happening in Austin, Texas--as the dot-com.ers and real estate developers are raising the financial roof on a local and richly spirited counterculture that has been in business since the 1960s--will know exactly what Boboism really means.
Perhaps Brooks would have been more accurate had he dubbed his darlings "Buboes." As in plague-welts.
Therefore, read this one at your own risk. In other words, this time try not to believe everything you read. "Bobos In Paradise" is a market ploy that is helping Madison Avenue create and widen a new market while beheadding another appendage of the hydra of authentic culture in America. And, you know what? That's even funnier than the first time they did it to us.